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30 Box Office Flops That Are Now Cult Classics

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Rocky Horror Picture Show released in 1975. It did well at a select few locations but poorly everywhere else. The film was eventually revived by theaters who invented ways for the audience to participate, which made it a cult hit. It became popularized as a midnight movie.

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Dazed and Confused

This movie had good reviews but was perhaps a victim of poor marketing. Texas teenagers, portrayed by an impressive ensemble cast, celebrate the last day of school. In addition to the killer soundtrack, Matthew McConaughey steals the show as Wooderson.

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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Despite nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory  was not a commercial success for Paramount Pictures. So much so that they decided not to renew the copyright. This allowed Warner Brothers to buy the rights, which they used for numerous TV airings. Thanks to this strategy, the film quickly became a classic children's film. 

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Shawshank Redemption

These days, we all know Shawshank Redemption is one of the best movies ever created. In fact, it’s listed as the #1 movie of all time on IMDB. That’s insane considering it was once a box office flop. It may have struggled at first, but if there’s any movie that’s clawed its way up from the bottom, it's this one.

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Barbarella

Jane Fonda stars as futuristic heroine Barbarella in this fantasy science fiction film based on a French comic book. Though it was a box office failure at the time in the U.S., it did better with European audiences. Fonda's sexy outfits and the film itself later became iconic.

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Blade Runner

If you weren’t born in the 80s, you would never guess Blade Runner initially flopped.  When people talk about well-made sci-fi, Blade Runner is the first thing mentioned after the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. That’s really not a surprise since Harrison Ford stars in both the original 1982 release and the 2017 sequel.

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The Thing

The Thing is the story of an alien parasite that wreaks havoc on researchers in Antarctica by assimilating its victims. Though it is now highly regarded, John Carpenter's science fiction horror film performed below studio expectations because of competing films and surprisingly poor reviews. 

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It's a Wonderful Life

It's hard to believe that this classic Christmas film was a box office flop, but It's a Wonderful Life lost over half a million dollars for RKO Pictures--mostly because moviegoers found the subject matter too dark for such a cheery holiday. However, it found new life in 1974 when its copyright was not renewed and the film became part of the public domain. This led to TV airings and numerous home releases that turned it into a hit. 

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Donnie Darko

A strange premise perhaps limited Donnie Darko's success at the box office. In the film, a teenager named Donnie Darko has visions of a someone in a big, creepy rabbit costume who refers to himself as Frank. Categorized as psychological science fiction, current fans like it because it leaves the viewer with many things to ponder.

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Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is one of those books that has had a cult following since its publication in 1985. The movie took 28 years to get onto the big screen, a problem not helped at all by the problems the author caused. It finally made it onto the big screen in 2013, but it only surpassed its budget by $15 million, a relatively small number in Hollywood.

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Heathers

Audiences didn't know what to make of this black comedy at the time. After poor box office returns, the film found success in the world of video rental through word-of-mouth. In this precursor to Mean Girls, Christian Slater and Winona Ryder deal with high school archetypes and murder.

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Dune

Writer and director David Lynch blamed producers, who stifled his artistic vision, for Dune's poor box office run. Fans of the novel and science fiction fans in general still found reasons to turn it into a cult classic, though. The fact that Sting is in it definitely helps! 

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Office Space

Backers found Office Space difficult to market, but it did well at the video store. Anyone who has ever worked at a large company with its own culture and procedures finds this cult classic hilarious.

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Brazil

Director Terry Gilliam battled with film executives over editing and scenes in his unique science fiction masterpiece, Brazil. Even though few people had seen his original vision at the time, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded it their Best Picture in 1985.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Producers completely missed the mark budget-wise with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--despite an $18.5 million budget, it only brought in $13.7 million at the box office. However, the film became a cult classic when it was released to DVD and home viewers were able to enjoy the crazy, drug-fueled antics of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo. 

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Fight Club

Who knew Fight Club flopped? When people think of the words “Cult Classic,” they think of Fight Club. Go to any bachelor pad or high school film class and you’ll find a giant photo of Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and a bar of pink soap. But no matter what you do, don’t talk about Fight Club.

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Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

In 1965, this film was dismissed as exploitive. Time, however, has helped this movie gain an intrigued audience and better reviews. Admirers like how the movie places a strong woman in a typical male role.

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Pumpkinhead

Movie distributors didn't believe in Pumpkinhead, and it wasn't widely marketed or released. Horror fans, however, love the vengeful monster featured in it. The film has spawned into video sequels, comic books, and a cult following.

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Sid and Nancy

Rock and roll fans and good critical reviews helped make Sid and Nancy a success after a disappointing box office run. The film tells the story of Vicious (from the Sex Pistols) and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

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Harold and Maude

Dark humor, an obsession with death, and an intergenerational romantic relationship turned audiences of Harold and Maude very much off. However, later audiences found it funny and culturally significant.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Everybody loves Michael Cera. That’s basically a proven fact. (If you don’t believe us, go watch Arrested Development.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World took a hugely popular graphic novel and turned it into a movie. It’s a great film, but not many people have heard of it. If you do find someone who has seen this movie, we can almost guarantee that they love it.

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Iron Giant

The 1999 movie Iron Giant is a staple of classic animated movies. (Well, at least ones that don’t center around princesses.) It was produced by one of Pixar’s most successful directors, but the movie strayed too far from convention for it to be initially successful. It made less than half of its budget back.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth

Disagreement between film companies led to a limited release and a barely break-even status for this British science fiction film. A cult following has developed in the years since, mostly due to the star of the film being David Bowie. 

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

You know that any movie with a title this long will either be absolutely terrible or too artistic for the general populous to enjoy. This movie falls into the second category. It stars Brad Pitt. Like his other films Seven and Inglorious Basterds, it pushes the limits of what we’re used to seeing in movies. It only made half of its already small budget, but it did make its way onto many “Best Movies” lists.

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Wet Hot American Summer

Moviegoers and critics alike were not fans of Wet Hot American Summer when it was released in 2001. However,  time has been kind to this satirical film about summer camp--it's developed a cult following of devoted fans and recieved both a prequel and sequel thanks to Netflix. 

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Clue

When it was released, Clue didn't even break even--it had a budget of $15 million but only brought in $14.6 million. However, in the years since then it's become a cult classic, with fans praising the cast for their camp, slapstick performances. 

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Children of Men

Children of Men features a world with a horrifying premise: no one has been able to have children in decades. This apocalyptic movie focuses on the first woman to become pregnant in years. It hardly made any money in the office, but the critics loved it.

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Plan 9 From Outer Space

Despite media often saying Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever, it achieved cult status. The science fiction horror piece, made by movie great, Ed Wood, features aliens resurrecting Earth's dead.

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Hugo

The book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a modern classic unlike any other. (Seriously, go by your local bookstore on your way home from work and snag a copy.) Like any book-to-movie with an established following, standards were high. In a new turn for Hollywood, the film managed to meet those standards. It won more Academy Awards in 2011 than any other film that year (11) and added another Golden Globe to the producer’s collection. Sadly, the film barely exceeded its budget.

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Treasure Planet

There are a million reasons why Treasure Planet flopped. Maybe it was the lack of songs that were such a staple in animated films of the time. Maybe it was the characters who were too far outside the visual norm. Maybe it was competing with Harry Potter, a movie also in theaters. Either way, we’re heartbroken this movie didn’t receive the love it deserved. 

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